GoJIL Vol. 8, No. 1 (2017)
Universal Jurisdiction in Absentia Before Domestic Courts Prosecuting International Crimes: A Suitable Weapon to Fight Impunity?
This article addresses the legality and desirability of States asserting universal jurisdiction without the suspect being present on their territory when prosecuting international crimes before domestic courts. First the legality under international law of States asserting universal jurisdiction in absentia (or absolute universal jurisdiction) will be discussed. No comprehensive regulation in this regard appears to exist in codified international law. Based on State practice, it would seem that no customary law either fully permits or entirely prohibits States asserting absolute universal jurisdiction. Applying the Lotus paradigm, it could arguably be concluded that the lack of a prohibition under international law results in States being allowed to assert universal jurisdiction in absentia when prosecuting certain international crimes. Having established its legality, this article will consequently approach absolute universal jurisdiction from a normative point of view, i.e. whether States should assert it. Although a tool in ending impunity of perpetrators of international crimes, it will be concluded that it is undesirable for States to assert absolute universal jurisdiction. Its use is likely to compromise fundamental rights of the accused and has a destabilizing effect on international relations while only suboptimally serving the goals of criminal prosecution.
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